"What puts that vulnerable soul up there in the most brightly lit part of a room, clutching a microphone, to be judged by skeptical and often hostile strangers? Desire to be loved is surely part of it, cliché though it be. What better substitute for real love than a sea of eager faces, beaming laughing, applauding, and celebrating your existence?” —Dick Cavett in Talk Show
Of course, Cavett is talking about standup comics, but for many pastors the above quote probably resonates with knee-shaking, palm sweating accuracy.
Comics prepare. Preachers prepare. Lack of preparation leads to fear!
Some preachers start their serious sermon prep with a long-held belief that God will bail them out at the last minute when composition time has been truncated for whatever reason, including laziness. If they manage to “pull the rabbit out of the hat” on such occasions, this abbreviated prep pattern unfortunately becomes a habit.
The fear that accompanies this style of working, however, is fraught with angst and guilt. Sometimes shame even rears its addictive cyclical head. To get free of this disorder is illusive for many...too many.
Do this instead...
Make a rough outline of the whole year either based on the lectionary or any reasonable predication of where you think your preaching schedule is going to be headed in the next calendar year. Enter the outline of weeks into your smart phone using any one of hundreds of programs like Evernote (see Anthony Coppedge’s excellent post)
BTW, don’t use the excuse that you have to wait for the Lord’s leading each month. That, after all, is a given. You can always change the plan, but without a plan, you’re toast!
Start a daily “brain dump” of ideas, story illustrations, and images into one of these sync-able smart phone/computer apps. Your database will grow faster than you think. When you start to prepare a specific sermon, you’ll have more supporting material than you know what to do with—the prime goal is, of course, still opening Scripture up for your people.
How long will this take? Researching the app, setting up the calendar outline and figuring out how to input information with ease will probably cost you about 5 hours of solid work, but you will save hundreds of hours by just doing this one task!
Stop being a slave! Stop sweating! Stop shaking! Take time to do initial set-up in order to have an enjoyable and creative time when the inevitable rubber hits the inevitable road. In this day of astounding technology and ease of use, there's no excuse for last minute content scavenging.
To be fair, and for the record, some of the best pulpit experiences come from having no preparation at all!
A friend of mine in North Carolina had previously prepared a beautifully eloquent and profound sermon the week of the horrendous massacre of children in Connecticut. He went ahead and preached it to his early service, because, he rationalized, an elderly constituency would probably be better “fed” by his prepared sermon.
In the next service, though, where there were always many young families, he just pastored them for 30 minutes, assuring parents that it is God’s desire for children that no harm will come to them. He was angry at those who had suggested publicly that God might be trying to make a point about “prayer in the schools in the U.S.” Then he assured children who were present that the staff, caregivers, and the entire church was dedicated to preserving their childhoods and, in God’s name, protecting them
People wept through his whole talk.
He wrote in his Christmas letter this year that it was, “The best sermon I've ever given—and it wasn’t even a sermon!”
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